John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

He wrote plays that shared the forms of the traditional well-made play, combining the description of the sufferings of the people with social and political wrongs of the society.

John Galsworthy was born in 1867 in London in a well-to-do bourgeois family of a lawyer. He was educated at Oxford, but soon gave up his practice and started to write. Galsworthy travelled a lot. He visited Canada, Russia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

He began to write in the last years of the 19th century, but his first works were not popular.

In 1904 he produced “The Island Pharisees”, and in 1906 “The Man of Property” was published. These two novels made him famous.

Publishing “The Man of Property” John Galsworthy started book “The Forsyte Saga” (1906-1921).

He was a bourgeois and conservative himself. Nevertheless, he gave a vivid picture of the society of the 20th century. But still we see some limitations in his realism. His criticism of bourgeoisie was ethical and aesthetical, but neither democratic, progressive, nor passionate. Galsworthy wanted to retain his class ruling position. The idea of creating a series of novels, portraying the history of several generations of an English family, was carrying out in his masterpiece — “The Forsyte Saga”. He depicted the representatives of an English upper-middle class family of the Forsytes. Galsworthy presented the story of the Forsytes in two trilogies. It took him twenty-two years to accomplish his monumental work. The starting point was “The Man of Property” (1906). In 1918 he began to write a continuation to the novel. This developed into a great scene of English life, including more than fifty years:

The Forsyte Saga”

A Modern Comedy”

The End of the Chapter”

The Forsytes are ambitious. They possess property, which becomes the main object of their worship.

At the top of the Forsyte family tree there is a farmer, John Dorset, who made his fortune in house building in London. He is followed by his sons, Jolyon, Timothy and James. “They had all done so well for themselves, these Forsytes, that they were all what is called of a certain position. They had shares in all sorts of things… They collected pictures too, and were supporters of such charitable institutions as might be beneficial to their sick domestics, […] they … caused their wives and children to attend with some regularity the more fashionable churches of the Metropolis…” (“The Man of Property”, Chapter I). Their residences were placed round the Hyde Park.

The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an exaggeration of family importance, and — the sniff.” (“The Man of Property”, Chapter I).

The most outstanding figure of the second generation is James’s son, Soames Forsyte, a typical representative of the bourgeois propertied class. His sacred sense of property extends to the works of art, and even to his wife Irene — a woman who has never been in love with him. Soames threatens her, as if she was his property, and refuses all consideration of her own feelings and wish. But Soames’s devotion to his daughter Fleur who is “always at the back of his thoughts” proves that Soames, the man of property, is also a man of deep and lasting feelings. More than that, he adores his wife, “he was half-cracked about her. She refused him five times.” (“The Man of Property”, Chapter I). But Irene falls in love with a young architect, Philip Bosinney, “a man without fortune”. Irene breaks off with Soames after Bosinney’s tragic death. Both Irene and Bosinney impersonate forces alien to Forsytism and to very spirit of property. Their moral superiority over extreme individualism, egoism and snobbery shows that there is something more in the world than money. Even inside the Forsyte family there are forces that rebel against the law of ownership:

Young Jolyan breaks off with the family, departs from the family nest”. June, his daughter, is a “decided character”, “all hair and spirit”, with “fearless blue eyes, a firm jaw, and a bright colour…” June is bold enough to be engaged to Philip Bosinney, a poor architect. “None of the Forsytes happened to be architects!”

It is their wealth that makes everything possible. Forsyte is a man who is known for his grip on property, whether it be money, houses, wives or reputation. The author gives the description of Forsytism that is especially English type of bourgeois morality and social attitude. “Never had there been so full an assembly for mysteriously united in spite of all their differences, they had taken arms against a common peril. Like cattle when a dog comes into the field, they stood head to head and shoulder to shoulder, prepared to run upon and trample the invader to death.” (“The Man of Property”, Chapter I).

The author uses satire against Forsyte’s prejudices and snobbery. His weapon is irony. Galsworthy shows the decay of the bourgeois society as a whole. But in spite of his irony towards the injustices of society, Galsworthy never transcends the certain limits of his conservative ideology.

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